Dele

Former Estate Planning Attorney

The only thing that stood in my way was 50 hours of pro bono work. A friend suggested that I volunteer at Open Door Legal– I decided to give it a shot.

“I grew up on three different continents: Africa, Europe, and North America. My global childhood exposed me to various cultures and made me feel at home with strangers. Now, I know how to create community wherever I go.

After law school, I was living in the U.S. and was about to become a licensed attorney. The only thing that stood in my way was 50 hours of pro bono work. A friend suggested that I volunteer at Open Door Legal– I decided to give it a shot.

On my first day, Adrian told me about his journey to start ODL. He dropped everything and moved across the country to build an entirely new kind of legal aid organization. I was inspired.

When I first began working at ODL I was nervous. I didn’t know much about Bayview, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make a home here. Thankfully, the community welcomed me with open arms. Clients invited me over for meals and introduced me to their families. I was shocked by how comfortable I felt.

In six short weeks, I completed my 50 hours of work– but I wasn’t done with ODL yet. I stayed for three more years, during which I created our estate planning program from scratch.

Estate planning is all about finding ways to pass on what you’ve built in your lifetime to your loved ones. I no longer work at Open Door Legal, but I am so grateful to know that the connections I made with clients and the programs I helped found will continue to grow and shape the community.”

Photography © Dale Tan

Ever since childhood, our co-founder Adrian has been dedicated to reducing poverty.

He studied systemic poverty in college and went to work in the field for a few years. Eventually, he had a thesis that legal aid was the most cost-effective way to address poverty in America. He wrote up a business plan and used it to apply to law school. 

The idea was to create the country’s first system of universal access to civil legal representation that ensures everyone can obtain timely, competent legal help for any legal issue, regardless of ability to pay. That had never been done before in the history of the United States.

In law school, he met Virginia, our Programs Director. Together, they co-founded the organization, two weeks after Adrian passed the bar.

When we opened we put a sign in the window, and with just that marketing and almost no other outreach we were overwhelmed with requests for help from people with good cases who had been turned away everywhere else.

Our first year we had revenue of $35,000. We would hand shred documents because a shredder was too expensive. Despite the financial challenges, we were able to work on over 280 cases in everything from housing law to family law to consumer law in the first year alone.

The hours were extreme, the pay was low, and the learning curve was steep. Still, we persisted. We knew that almost everyone we helped was not able to receive services anywhere else. Eventually, we attracted the interest of funders. We tripled our revenue for several years in a row. In 2015, we won the Bay Area Google Impact Challenge, which enabled us to expand even more. In 2019, we secured additional funding from the city that allowed us to open two new centers in the Excelsior and Western Addition.

As of 2020, our staff has grown to 27 full-time employees. We’ve shown that universal access is possible. Now, we plan to scale city-wide, make San Francisco the first city in the country’s history to have universal access to legal help, and become a model for national replication.